Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research

Guideline adaptation and implementation planning: a prospective observational study

Margaret B Harrison1*, Ian D Graham2, Joan van den Hoek1, Elizabeth J Dogherty1, Meg E Carley1 and Valerie Angus1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Nursing, Queen’s University, 78 Barrie Street, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6, Canada

2 School of Nursing, University of Ottawa, 451 Smyth Road, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 6N5, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

Implementation Science 2013, 8:49  doi:10.1186/1748-5908-8-49

Published: 8 May 2013



Adaptation of high-quality practice guidelines for local use has been advanced as an efficient means to improve acceptability and applicability of evidence-informed care. In a pan-Canadian study, we examined how cancer care groups adapted pre-existing guidelines to their unique context and began implementation planning.


Using a mixed-methods, case-study design, five cases were purposefully sampled from self-identified groups and followed as they used a structured method and resources for guideline adaptation. Cases received the ADAPTE Collaboration toolkit, facilitation, methodological and logistical support, resources and assistance as required. Documentary and primary data collection methods captured individual case experience, including monthly summaries of meeting and field notes, email/telephone correspondence, and project records. Site visits, process audits, interviews, and a final evaluation forum with all cases contributed to a comprehensive account of participant experience.


Study cases took 12 to >24 months to complete guideline adaptation. Although participants appreciated the structure, most found the ADAPTE method complex and lacking practical aspects. They needed assistance establishing individual guideline mandate and infrastructure, articulating health questions, executing search strategies, appraising evidence, and achieving consensus. Facilitation was described as a multi-faceted process, a team effort, and an essential ingredient for guideline adaptation. While front-line care providers implicitly identified implementation issues during adaptation, they identified a need to add an explicit implementation planning component.


Guideline adaptation is a positive initial step toward evidence-informed care, but adaptation (vs. ‘de novo’ development) did not meet expectations for reducing time or resource commitments. Undertaking adaptation is as much about the process (engagement and capacity building) as it is about the product (adapted guideline). To adequately address local concerns, cases found it necessary to also search and appraise primary studies, resulting in hybrid (adaptation plus de novo) guideline development strategies that required advanced methodological skills.

Adaptation was found to be an action element in the knowledge translation continuum that required integration of an implementation perspective. Accordingly, the adaptation methodology and resources were reformulated and substantially augmented to provide practical assistance to groups not supported by a dedicated guideline panel and to provide more implementation planning support. The resulting framework is called CAN-IMPLEMENT.

Knowledge to action; Practice guidelines; Evidence-informed practice; Knowledge activation; Guideline adaptation; Implementation planning